A little-noticed study was released in early July 2020 by a group of Chinese researchers in Beijing, including several affiliated with the Academy of Military Medical Science. These scientists said they had created a new model for studying SARS-CoV-2 by creating mice with human-like lung characteristics by using the CRISPR gene-editing technology to give the mice lung cells with the human ACE2 receptor — the cell receptor that allowed coronaviruses to so easily infect human lungs.
After consultations with experts, some U.S. officials came to believe this Beijing lab was likely conducting coronavirus experiments on mice fitted with ACE2 receptors well before the coronavirus outbreak—research they hadn’t disclosed and continued not to admit to. In its January 15 statement, the State Department alleged that although the Wuhan Institute of Virology disclosed some of its participation in gain-of-function research, it has not disclosed its work on RaTG13 and “has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.” That, by itself, did not help to explain how SARS-CoV-2 originated. But it was clear that officials believed there was a lot of risky coronavirus research going on in Chinese labs that the rest of the world was simply not aware of.
“This was just a peek under a curtain of an entire galaxy of activity, including labs and military labs in Beijing and Wuhan playing around with coronaviruses in ACE2 mice in unsafe labs,” the senior administration official said. “It suggests we are getting a peek at a body of activity that isn’t understood in the West or even has precedent here.”
This pattern of deception and obfuscation, combined with the new revelations about how Chinese labs were handling dangerous coronaviruses in ways their Western counterparts didn’t know about, led some U.S. officials to become increasingly convinced that Chinese authorities were manipulating scientific information to fit their narrative. But there was so little transparency, it was impossible for the U.S. government to prove, one way or the other. “If there was a smoking gun, the CCP [Communist Party of China] buried it along with anyone who would dare speak up about it,” one U.S. official told me. “We’ll probably never be able to prove it one way or the other, which was Beijing’s goal all along.”
Back in 2017, the U.S. diplomats who had visited the lab in Wuhan had foreseen these very events, but nobody had listened and nothing had been done. “We were trying to warn that that lab was a serious danger,” one of the cable writers who had visited the lab told me. “I have to admit, I thought it would be maybe a SARS-like outbreak again. If I knew it would turn out to be the greatest pandemic in human history, I would have made a bigger stink about it.”
China is the wild west for medical research. The moral, ethical and safety considerations that slow down research in much of the developed world are ignored in China. That means if one wants to do research that would be frowned upon at home, you will find a welcome in China. The result is that all manner of experiments with new biomedical technology are taking place, often behind closed doors.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top